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Nile Breweries’ Local Enterprise Agriculture Programme has made a significant and  lasting difference to the fortunes of farming communities in Uganda by creating new market opportunities and improving skills

Sorghum is a plant related to sugar cane that is tolerant to heat and drought, making it a staple crop in arid regions of the world such as Africa, Central America and South Asia. With around 30 varieties currently under cultivation, sorghum is used for human and animal food, biomass – and making beer.

The pioneer of sorghum beer was Uganda’s Nile Breweries Limited (NBL), which in collaboration with Ugandan government scientists developed a special strain of sorghum, named Epuripur or Special Sorghum, which is ideal for brewing. NBL launched its sorghum-based Eagle Lager in 2002, subsequently rolling out the brand to Zambia in 2005.

Eagle has been a huge success: within five years of its launch, it represented around half of NBL’s sales in Uganda. Eagle is the public face of a long-term project by NBL to promote farming as a business within  Uganda. This is called the Local Enterprise Agriculture Programme (LEAP) and it is a great example of how commercial interests and community benefits come together. At its heart was NBL’s desire to bring down the cost of beer by replacing expensive imported raw materials with locally-sourced ingredients, and then engaging with Uganda’s government to secure excise concessions for beer brewed using home-grown ingredients and helping improve livelihoods.

Initially, farmers supplied the brewery through contracted agents but as part of the LEAP initiative they were encouraged to form growers’ associations to deliver their crops directly to the brewery. Farmers were also provided with training to enhance their farming and entrepreneurial skills, while NBL worked closely with public bodies to help farmers develop a deeper understanding of farming as a business and the ways in which yields could be improved.

Promoting female empowerment will be a key aspect of the programme as it develops. Of the 15 growers’ associations formed so far, three are headed by female executive team members, while NBL has placed specific focus on female empowerment within its supply chain. The programme is also helping farmers to secure their families’ futures through education.

While the intangible benefits to Uganda’s farmers are important, the hard numbers are also encouraging. In 2013, NBL’s gross direct payments to farmers amounted to US$4m for sorghum. In total, NBL provides a direct market for more than 20,000 sorghum farmers. Since the launch of LEAP, the home-grown contribution to NBL’s brewing crop requirements has shot up from 13% in 2002 to 77% in 2013. Nile Breweries has also secured an excise rate of 20% for Eagle Lager instead of the 60% levied on beer brewed from imported ingredients, enabling us to sell Eagle at a lower price to consumers and make it an affordable alternative to home brews.

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